Wednesday, March 16, 2016

if only you try

Last time I encouraged believers to drop the excuse that they don't want to be tied down to stating their beliefs outright. Not to worry: assuming they express their beliefs somehow then that expression is making a statement. The expression might be mild. (It might consist of guiding other beliefs, like Einstein's belief "God does not play dice with the universe" guiding his beliefs about physics.) Its idiomatic meaningfulness might have greater pull on the believer than its literal content.

Tracing from the expressions back to the expressed beliefs is only step one. Step two is sifting through the presumable symptoms of the beliefs meaning something. In 2012 I gave step two an uninspired name to parallel the search for meaning in life which it filters: the "demand for meaning". It refers to pinpointing and validating the distinctive assertions imposed by found beliefs. The search for meaning isn't done until the searcher appraises their findings to judge if they're fake. A belief that can't survive relevant checks, or a belief that has no checks, is undeserving of loyalty. Believers who stop before step two shall become comfortable with the role of perpetual seeker.

Fortunately, translating a belief into digestible pieces isn't an advanced or rare undertaking; a timeless child's story can supply an example. What if the intrepid, well-traveled, talkative Peter T. Hooper tells Liz that he has collected hard to reach eggs by riding on top of a Ham-ikka-Schnim-ikka-Schnam-ikka Schnopp? Whether she trusts his tale or not, she probably wants definite information about the elements of this belief he's communicating. In essence, what is the Ham-ikka-Schnim-ikka-Schnam-ikka Schnopp, anyway?

Toward that goal Liz could ask pointed questions, assuming Peter can't show her a whimsical artist's rendering. She could focus on the realities that he would be expected to know if the belief of him on the top of the Schnopp were accurate. He wouldn't get credit for recounting additional information without explaining how he knows it, such as the Schnopp's age. Nor for cryptically calling the Schnopp a variant of another new creature. Nor for relaying hearsay from unknown or unqualified origins (internet public forums?). Nor for speaking exclusively in brief generalities or hunches.

To the contrary, persuasive answers would revolve around how its existence uniquely impinged on him. What was different because it was there? What perceptions did it register in his eyes, ears, fingers? What familiar creatures did it remind him of? How did he learn where to find one? What did it eat? The meaningfulness of the belief he proposes hinges on the kinds of particulars that Liz, or anyone, could potentially rediscover. He might have been on top of a rare creature with an official name that he doesn't know. The more unequivocal clarification of which belief someone's talking about, the less opportunity for confusion, and the more opportunity for inspecting its accuracy.

Liz may accept the belief in the Schnopp either with or without a comprehensive concept of what it is as well as the detectable outcomes its existence would/does lead to. But if the absence of the comprehensive concept nudges her to decline the belief, she shouldn't be scolded for an "oversimplified" and/or "close-minded" view on the belief. Beliefs can be minimally possible and be in competition nonetheless. During that competition, beliefs backed by elaborate, coherent, and abundantly verified concepts surpass beliefs that aren't.

Realities are complicated (and thereby more riveting). It's not feasible for every belief to be equally evident. Some beliefs can't help being more exploratory, abstract, or obscure. That said, children reading an imaginative book have enough shrewdness to understand that a creature in it should have more than a name and a few descriptive features before convincing anyone that it ventures outside the book's covers. Effective hoaxes require more effort than that. For genuine creatures such as the platypus, to avoid being labeled hoaxes might require more effort still...

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